Old guard to the fore

You see, I cannot remain content as a player by winning titles in the country. I need to better my world ranking. That’s strategically essential for me and also for India to get a good draw in the Commonwealth Games, which is foremost among our priorities.-PICS: RITU RAJ KONWAR

The victories of Sharath Kamal and Poulomi Ghatak underlined the predominance of the senior players in the National circuit. By Amitabha Das Sharma.

Achanta Sharath Kamal does not want his ambition to stop with being the brand ambassador of Indian table tennis. And there is not much satisfaction in becoming the first Indian to go farthest in the world rankings, for he knows he is capable of achieving a lot more.

So when Sharath won the men’s singles crown at the National Championships for the fourth time in a row, his expression was not one of total exuberance. Celebrations normally associated with winning the sport’s biggest title in the country were strangely missing. The player was, apparently, trying to weigh the significance of his victory, keeping in mind the greater challenges that lay ahead in a packed international calendar.

“I need to catch up on time as there is a lot left to achieve internationally,” said Sharath, whose career touched a new high when he became the world No. 66 last August. “I want to break into the top 50. I know I can do it. It is just a matter of getting together a few good performances,” he added.

Sharath’s conviction was evident in the manner in which he demolished his Petroleum Sports Promotion Board team-mate, Sourav Chakraborty, in the final.

The spectators at the Deshbhakta Tarun Ram Phukan indoor stadium in Guwahati were witness to some good action that generally revolved round Sharath’s progress through the fixtures.

“You see, I cannot remain content as a player by winning titles in the country. I need to better my world ranking. That’s strategically essential for me and also for India to get a good draw in the Commonwealth Games, which is foremost among our priorities,” said Sharath about the task ahead. He, justifiably, was the pick of the selections when the Table Tennis Federation of India announced the ‘core probables’ for the Games in New Delhi later this year.

The National Championship this time broke away from the routine exercise of finding the best players of the country; it identified the 12 men and women who would form the core group as India prepares for the Commonwealth Games.

The kind of dominance shown by Sharath in the men’s section was absent on the distaff side where the seasoned Poulomi Ghatak (PSPB) overcame her team-mate and defending champion Shamini Kumaresan in a final that went the distance.

Poulomi showed killer instinct though. “I could feel that my performance this time had an added bite which pulled me through the tournament,” she said. “The last two seasons did not work too well for me and I needed the title to get back my confidence,” she added.

Poulomi Ghatak... moving closer to Indu Puri’s record of eight National singles titles.-

Poulomi, who entered the tournament as an unseeded player, won her sixth National title (her earlier victories were in 1998, 2000, 2003, 2004 and 2007) which took her close to the record of Indu Puri, who had won eight National crowns. Incidentally, Indu was present at the tournament as an observer appointed by the Indian Government.

Shamini, the former India No. 1, was a revelation at the tournament as she played a lot more aggressively, casting aside her normally defensive approach. She tasted a fair bit of success with her new approach as she downed the likes of Neha Agarwal (Delhi), Mansi Bhagwat (Railways) and Soumi Mondal (PSPB) to reach the final.

The experienced Poulomi showed better application and staged a remarkable comeback after being down by a game (1-2) at one stage. She appeared to have been inspired by her semifinal victory over Madhurika Patkar, who had come into the tournament fresh from winning four gold medals at the South Asian Games.

In the men’s semifinals, Sharath downed former champion Subhajit Saha, while seventh-seeded Sourav Chakraborty outlasted his PSPB team-mate, fourth-seeded Anthony Amalraj.

Sourav, trailing by two games to three and 3-7 in the sixth game, made a late charge, playing some brilliant shots to make it 10-10. Thereafter, he wrested the initiative from Amalraj. The two ran each other close in the decider, but a couple of errors by Amalraj gave Sourav two match points which he fully capitalised on.

Turning out for their native state, West Bengal, Sourav joined Anirban Nandy to win the men’s doubles. This was the only title that eluded PSPB.

THE RESULTS

Men’s singles final: A. Sharath Kamal (PSPB) bt Sourav Chakraborty (PSPB) 11-3, 11-8, 7-11, 11-8, 11-9. Semifinals: Sharath Kamal bt Subhajit Saha (PSPB) 11-8, 9-11, 12-10, 11-9, 8-11, 11-3; Sourav bt A. Amalraj (PSPB) 6-11, 7-11, 11-7, 11-9, 10-12, 12-10, 11-9.

Men’s doubles final: Sourav Chakraborty & Anirban Nandy bt Soumyadeep Roy & Zubin Kumar (PSPB) 11-8, 11-9, 5-11, 11-2.

Women’s singles final: Poulomi Ghatak (PSPB) bt K. Shamini (PSPB) 6-11, 11-5, 11-13, 11-7, 11-6, 7-11, 11-9. Semifinals: Shamini bt Soumi Mondal (PSPB) 11-6, 10-12, 11-9, 11-6, 11-4; Poulomi bt Madhurika Patkar (PSPB) 11-7, 11-3, 5-11, 12-14, 11-8, 11-6.

Women’s doubles final: Madhurika Patkar & K. Shamini (PSPB) bt Pooja Sahasrabudhe & Divya Deshpande (PSPB) 11-8, 5-11, 9-11, 11-7, 11-6.

Mixed doubles final: Subhajit Saha & Nandita Saha (PSPB) bt Sourav Chakraborty & Mouma Das (WB) 9-11, 11-7, 11-9, 11-7.